Two Minnesota anglers learned the hard way that Ontario doesn't mess around when it comes to fish and game law violations and big fines.
Russell R. Sikkila Jr. of Chisholm was fined $800 (Canadian dollars) for trying to sneak a dozen leeches into Sand Point Lake, while Carl W. Brandt of Forest Lake was fined $1,500 for hiding bags of leeches in a worm cooler as he crossed the border at Fort Frances.
Both men pleaded guilty to smuggling leeches into Ontario in violation of the import ban on most live bait.
The cases were heard last week in court in Fort Frances.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Canada Border Services Agency officers conducted an inspection of Sikkila's boat at the remote customs entry station on Sand Point Lake on July 18. Officers located a cooler containing three white foam containers. While all three containers were marked as housing worms, which are allowed, one held 12 live leeches instead. Officers verified that Sikkila was working as a commercial fishing guide in Crane Lake and was on his way to the Ontario waters of Sand Point Lake where he intended to use the leeches as bait.
On June 27, Canada Border Services Agency officers at the Fort Frances port of entry contacted Brandt and conducted a secondary inspection of his vehicle. During the inspection, officers located a cooler that was filled with paper bedding and worms. Officers dug through the bedding and located two plastic bags that contained 4 pounds of live leeches. Conservation officers then verified that Brandt was on his way to go fishing and was intending to use the leeches as bait.
Ontario bans live minnows and leeches, and any bait that requires water, from being imported into the province in an effort to keep out invasive species.
The two convictions with steep fines are part of a trend for Ontario fish and game violations.
In January, two Alabama men were fined a total of $5,600 for fishing offenses that included having 12 walleye over their limit and for cutting fish in a way that they couldn't be easily identified. In September, two Winnipeg men were found guilty and fined a combined $14,900 for multiple fishing offenses on Lake of the Woods, including obstructing a conservation officer, making false statements to a conservation officer, fishing lake trout out of season, using bait where banned and using barbed hooks where banned. Earlier this month, an Illinois man and California man were fined a combined $6,000 for possessing 24 walleye over their limit on Lake of the Woods.
Last year, Patrick Aker of Orr pleaded guilty and was fined $4,000 for illegally hunting deer in Ontario without a guide, without a license and not wearing blaze orange. He also forfeited his firearm, canoe and gear to the court.